Friday, October 19, 2012

Rawhide Rattle: Build-a-Long

   In a recent post, 'The Thrifty Mystic', I mentioned using rawhide chew toys as an option to make an affordable rattle for your ceremonies. This post is my first in a series of build-a-longs that detail my methods of creating sacred tools that I use in my Shamanic practices. Please note that although rawhide rattles have been used by many North American tribes, the following tutorial is by no means traditional.
     The process of creating a rattle, or any ceremonial tool, is a deeply spiritual experience. Give yourself time to meditate on the purpose your rattle will serve, and allow Spirit to guide you through the work ahead.
Rawhide Rattle Tutorial

What you'll need:

- Large Rawhide Chew Sticks (These may be called Beefhide on different brands)
- Dental Floss (Unless you have some Sinew lying about)
- Sewing Needle
-Poster Board (Or some sort of paper to cut your template out of..)
-Sand or Small Pebbles
-Sturdy Scissors
-Seed Beads (This is for the Rattle's Voice, you can use stones or shells...)
-Stick/ Dowel Rod for the Handle
-Wood Glue
-Awl, Small Gauge Knitting Needle, Or Ice Pick (This is to create your holes for threading.)
Step 1: This is the easiest step of all, go to your local dollar store and purchase a package of large rawhide or beefhide dog chews. I purchased these AKC beefhide chews for only $2.25 (You can't beat that price!). Each roll will make about one rattle.

Step 2: Find a suitable sized container to soak the rawhide in. I found that a shoebox storage container works well. Fill this with hot water, and drop in your pieces of rawhide. You may want to find a heavy dish as the rawhide will try to float.
    It took about three to four hours for my pieces of rawhide to become flexible enough to unroll. They may stick a little at first, just carefully peel the rawhide apart. After you unroll the pieces it may be a good idea to let them soak a while longer, just to make sure the all of the rawhide is thoroughly wet. While they're soaking, take a piece of poster board and draw a 3 1/2 in. circle with a small rectangle at the bottom. This rectangle should be about 1 1/2 in. wide, this will be the neck of your rattle head.
Step 3: When the rawhide feels flexible, remove it from the water. Using a pair of sturdy scissors and your template, cut out two pieces from the rawhide. Take your time cutting out the rattle head, and try to avoid leaving jagged edges.  After you have these two pieces cut, take a sharp needle, awl or ice pick and pierce the rawhide around the edges starting at the rectangular neck. These holes should be set 1/6" to 1/4" apart.
Step 4: Thread a sewing needle with Sinew or Dental floss. Start with the neck of the rattle and work your way around the outside of the rattle. Remember to try to keep your stiches tight. Once you've finished sewing up your rattle head, tie off the floss and trim the excess.
Step 5: Using a funnel or a spoon, fill the rattle head with sand or peddles, this will help the rawhide hold the desired shape while it dries out. Be sure to pack the sand in as tightly as you can manage. A shortcut, that a very smart and creative friend of mine divised, is to place the rattle head in a food dehydrator. This dramatically cuts the drying However if you find yourself without a dehydrator, let the rawhide dry for atleast a day. BE SURE that it is no longer flexible, or you can end up with your rattle head collapsing. But no worries, if this happens just dump the sand, resoak the head, and start again. After it is completely dried, pour out the sand.
Step 6: Find a stick that you would like to use for your handle. I used a piece of seasoned bamboo. After making any adjustments you need to make your stick fit into the neck of the rattle head, fill the head with seed beads, shells, or pebbles. After you've created the rattles voice, it's time to glue the rawhide head onto the handle. Be sure to dab the glue all around the  top of the handle. Place the handle into the head and hold the neck secure for a few minutes. Then allow the glue to cure and set for several hours.
Step 7: Now it's time for you to let your creative spirit lead you wherever it may. You can choose to paint or henna dye your designs onto the rattle head. I used a speckled rabbits fur and tanned cowhide to wrap the handle of my rattle. If you choose to paint your rattle head, try to keep your coats light, as the rawhide will soak up any moisture. It is also a good idea to seal your rattle with a clear coat after you've painted it. I've painted a White Buffalo along with seven stars to honor the sacred teachings of White Buffalo Woman and the Pleaides.
          After the work is done give your rattle a ceremony to welcome its arrival into your life. Honoring its spirit and the all of the intimate ceremonies you will share in the future. I hope that you've found this build-a-long helpful! Feel free to comment with any questions you may have or your experiences in creating rattles of your own.
Mitakuye Oyasin (We Are All Related)


  1. That is so very looks awesome!

    Did you have to do lots of coats of paint (does the rawhide suck up the color as you paint)? What do you use to clear coat?

    It would be neat to fill a rattle with found items. Do you test the voice before you seal the rattle?

    I wonder if it's possible to do other shapes of rattle heads...

    1. yes. I'm currently doing a turtle and a butterfly!

  2. Thanks, Kylara! I actually only used one coat of paint, but the rawhide does drink up the moisture so it dries very quickly. I usually use a clear glaze spray that you buy in the Spray Paint section, but I would think any clear fixative or polyurethane would work.
    With other rattles that I've made, like Gourd and turtle shell rattles, I've used small shells, and vertabrae for the voicing. And yes, I always check the voice before I actually attach the handle.
    You can actually find many different shapes for the rattle head, I am planning on creating a few different types like rectangular, arrowhead, and the heartline bear. But I would think that any shape you can draw out would work.

  3. What kind of paint would you recommend using?